A new church joins community Thanksgiving meal

The newly formed Grace Church is joining in with the annual community Thanksgiving meal for the homeless held at Transportation Depot.

The church, which organized less than six months ago, is partnering with the annual homeless meal that James Whitten organized about seven years ago.

"Grace Church is helping out, and they're going to be bringing a bunch of volunteers in also," Whitten said. "They're really good people, but we don't try to hit him in the head with the Bible. We don't do any of those kinds of things. ... The whole purpose of it is to create more volunteers for the community."

Lamar Trieschmann, pastor of Grace Church, said the event is more than just food.

"We're offering a free meal to anybody and lots of free stuff like coats and camping equipment for anybody that might be living on the street, canned goods, things like that," he said.

Transportation Depot is an ideal location for the church, Trieschmann said.

"That's the main reason, and it's also not a church building, not where we meet, and I think it's important to be out in the public and kind of where people are," he said. "We've kind of walked around that area a lot.

"There's several places around there that (provide for people), obviously the Jackson House, Potter's Clay, all those are kind of in that same area, and then also the Greenway. It's easy for people to travel down and, of course, transportation from public transportation comes in that area as well."

Trieschmann, who has been a pastor in Hot Springs for 27 years, left Lake Valley Community Church in May, and he started Grace Church, which meets at The Vapors each Sunday.

"I'm in The Vapors, which is an entertainment venue on Park Avenue, and I just felt like I needed to do something kind of different than I had for the last 27 years," he said. "So The Vapors is an entertainment venue on Friday and Saturday night. It's got a bar and slot machines, and then we just roll in here on Sunday morning, clean it up and have church in a cocktail lounge."

With services being held outside a standard church building, Trieschmann feels it will allow those who are less likely to attend a traditional church to stop by.

"The thing that, to me, why that's important is because we're just going to a place that's not typically a church," he said. "So we can draw people that maybe wouldn't typically come to a church building, and there's a lot of needs in this area. And so, I just want our church to really give back to the people.

"You know, love our neighbors is basically what we're wanting to do, but anybody that has a need, we want to meet those needs. And so we thought it'd be good to start this Thanksgiving by doing an outreach like this, and I want to get our people serving and loving and giving back to our community, and this is a way to really do that."

Whitten said the community Thanksgiving meal started about seven years ago when he was contacted by Janie Smith, the executive director of Jackson House Crisis Intervention Inc. about some women who were attacked while attempting to feed the homeless one day.

"I just stepped in and started it up the way that it was," he said, noting the meal is also done at Christmas.

"It started out of my own truck and three or four tables I bought it at auction."

While Grace Church is planning on "10 turkeys ... stuffing, dressing, mashed potatoes, all those things, pies," Trieschmann said, Whitten said he never knows exactly what food will be there each year.

"I never know what's going to show up until it happens. ... We have people that -- it just happens," he said. "I don't have any restaurants or anyone that has committed to bringing certain trays of certain things, but generally, we'll have all kinds of Thanksgiving food -- turkeys, hams, dressing, desserts."

Whitten said he hopes to one day fill the Hot Springs Farmers & Artisans Market pavilion with a community meal.

"The overall goal was to someday get the market ... and turn it into a complete community meal with a sideline of the homeless," he said. "Because there's just so many people that need somewhere to go they need something to do they need to get out of their head."

Whitten said the event usually feeds about 100 people each year.

"We also have people that show up and bring food out to the homeless camps, and we have people drive around and find homeless people and bring it to them," he added.

Jackson House will be closed Thursday with the lunch line and thrift store reopening on Friday. The thrift store will also be holding a half-off sale for Black Friday.